Mr. Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks power forward who hasn’t played for a German club in 13 years, is on every front page and leading most news bulletins today in Germany. Sure, it's a public holiday here (Pentecost) and not much else is happening. But Nowtizki is a bona fide national sports hero in a country that currently ranks 12th on the FIBA list of best national teams.
Germans are passionate about sport, but only soccer can be described as a national sport in the way basketball, baseball, and football are in the US.
The soccer World Cup and the European Championships bring the country to a standstill, the nation glued to TV sets and giant screens in public squares.
The FIBA basketball world championships will practically go unnoticed.
I polled neighbors and family members. Not a single person could name the current German basketball champions (Brose Baskets Bamberg).
Yet Nowitzki’s development from “German wunderkind” to NBA franchise player with indisputable leadership qualities has been followed very closely on this side of the Atlantic. Germany doesn't have many sports stars who made it in America (though both the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks have a German player, which means the Stanley Cup will be paying Germany a visit this summer), and for fans at home, Nowitzki seems to embody the best of both worlds – American spirit and glamour and German efficiency and persistence.
No commentator here failed to mention Nowitzki’s modesty and his insistence on putting team before individual success. These are described as typical German features and contrasted with the loud-mouthed hubris of LeBron James.
Winning an American championship has placed Nowitzki in the company of German international sports stars like Steffi Graf (tennis), Michael Schumacher
(Formula 1 racing), and Franz Beckenbauer (soccer).
There's been no official reaction yet from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but Nowitzki has received congratulations from someone almost as important – the manager of the national soccer team: “I have the highest respect for Dirk Nowitzki, this was an extraordinary performance," Joachim Loew said. "He is one of Germany’s top athletes.”